Tuesday, September 27, 2011

when, where, and why people riot

I've rounded up some experts to explain the science behind the "English riots" that happened in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and some other cities at the beginning of August. Geography, social issues, crowd psychology, network science all have something to say about it, though detailed research, such as the Guardian's collaborative effort with the LSE, Reading the Riots, is only just beginning.

My feature about all this is out in Current Biology today:

Why do people riot?

Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 18, R673-R676, 27 September 2011

FREE access to full text and pdf file

PS: Results of the detailed study of the 2011 riots are published here.

broken britain

broken britain 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

food fight

I don't often write about food and agriculture, but hey, it's harvest time, and world population is going to pass the 7 billion mark soon, so naturally our thoughts turn to how to feed all those people.

Chemical crop protection is under attack from all sides, as GM crops push some of it out of the global market (though not the European one, where people mistrust GM), resistance to established herbicides is spreading, and the fears of side effects (most recently: on bees) aren't going away either.

So I've looked into what direction the industry may take to get out of this trouble, and found a few interesting new approaches.

Read my feature in today's issue of Current Biology:

New directions in crop protection
Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 17, R641-R643, 13 September 2011
Summary and limited access to PDF file


Don't know what they fed this quince tree (not mine)!

Monday, September 12, 2011

book projects

It turns out that I have two new books to complete by the end of January, so there won't be much time left for random blog entries until then. For the first time in nearly 12 years of self-exploitation, I've had to make a weekly timetable to allocate ringfenced time slots to both projects. Will keep plugging my feature articles though (one coming up tomorrow, in fact) and gradually reveal more about the upcoming books.

Meanwhile, the completely revised and updated second edition of Astrobiology: a brief introduction is available around the world now, so get your copy to find out everything you always wanted to know about Life and the Universe. (Note that the hardback is made for library use and therefore doesn't have a dustjacket, so it's just plain black and you don't get the lovely cover design.)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

budapest globalised

The next thing I noticed about Budapest (after the red trolleybuses) was how thoroughly Western brands have taken over the place. It's not just the fast food outlets and coffee shops that you find everywhere in the world. The supermarkets are called Tesco and Spar, the banks are German, the phone booths (rusty and red, like the trolleybuses) were decorated in the livery of German Telekom (of T mobile fame) and had their trademark pinky-purple receivers:


Add to that the German-built cars that block the roads (traffic is a bit of a nightmare on the main routes through the city, but amazingly, drivers very willingly stop to let pedestrians cross), and you'll come to the conclusion that the profits of virtually every economic activity that goes on around there (with the possible exception of haircuts) will be skimmed off by somebody in the west. Oh well.

Funny that after 18 years in the UK, finding the German logos in Hungary is just mildly amusing. It's the Tesco branches, ranging from "expressz" to "hipermarket" that really annoyed me. From our experience here we know that these spread like Japanese knotweed.